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What’s on Your Thanksgiving Table? Fun Thanksgiving Facts

November 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

I Helped Gobble Up Hunger - 500 Turkeys in ValparaisoTwo years ago, we reported some surprising statistics about Thanksgiving feasts, including the number of turkeys raised in the United States and more. But where are we now?

But First…A Bit of History
Despite the popular belief that Thanksgiving originated with the colony at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, researchers have actually pinpointed the first Thanksgiving 56 years earlier. According to scholars, the first known Thanksgiving took place during September 1565, in Saint Augustine, Florida when Spanish settlers held a Mass of Thanksgiving after arriving safely in the new world. English settlers in the Virginia Colony held a similar day of thanks in 1619. Two years later, the colonists at Plymouth Plantation celebrated the famed Thanksgiving of 1621.

The celebration continued when the colonies became the United States of America. In 1789, George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. The tradition of thanks was carried on sporadically by President John Adams in 1798 and 1799, as well as President James Madison in 1814 and 1815. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln finally proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving. Years later, President Franklin Roosevelt stated that Thanksgiving should always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month–as opposed to the occasional fifth Thursday.

Eel and Seal…Mmmmm! My favorite!
What exactly did the colonists eat at the early Thanksgiving celebrations? According to food historian Kathleen Curtin, the answer may surprise you. In addition to wild turkey, other popular sources of meat that were likely served include eel, clams, lobster, wild goose, eagles, venison, and seal…yes, seal. Peas, beans, and carrots were probably on the table, but sweet potatoes and corn on the cob weren’t. And although pumpkins were likely consumed, pumpkin pie wasn’t on the menu because no recipe existed for it at that time.

Talking Turkey…242 Million Turkeys!
Today, turkeys are a popular choice for Thanksgiving and holiday feasts. This popularity has turned turkey farming into a big business. In fact, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that 242 million turkeys will be raised in the U.S. this year alone. That’s down from 271 million turkeys two years ago.

Weighing In On What We Eat
Ever wonder how many cranberries, pumpkins, and other Thanksgiving Day foods we go through each year? The U.S. Census Bureau has the skinny! According to their research, the U.S. will produce some serious poundage this year alone when it comes to these holiday favorites, including:

  • 735 million pounds of cranberries (that’s up from 689 million pounds in 2008)
  • 1.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes (versus 1.8 billion in 2008)
  • 931 million pounds of pumpkins (down from 1.1 billion pounds in 2008)
  • 2.2 billion bushels of wheat (an increase from 2.1 billion bushels in 2008)
  • 736,680 tons of snap green beans (down from 769,760 in 2008)

No wonder we feel so full after those holiday meals!

Did You Say You’re From Turkey?
That’s right – there are three places in the United States named Turkey (Turkey, TX; Turkey Creek, LA; and Turkey, NC), plus nine townships also share the Thanksgiving main-meal moniker. Not to be out done, there are five places in the U.S named Cranberry (though some are spelled Cranbury) and twenty-eight places named Plymouth, after the Plymouth Rock landing site of the first Pilgrims.  

Can Turkey Really Make You Tired?
Here’s how the story goes. Turkey contains tryptophan…which helps the body produce niacin…which then helps produce serotonin. And serotonin is the key to this theory because it calms the brain and induces sleep.

The problem with that theory is that tryptophan actually works best on an empty stomach–which most of us don’t have after our Thanksgiving feast! So, it’s more likely that the heaviness and the high carbohydrate content of the entire Thanksgiving meal are responsible for that sense of lethargy you feel, as your body works to digest it all. Add a glass of wine or other alcohol to your meal, and you’ll increase that feeling of sleepiness even more.

Then again, we all work hard throughout the year, so maybe that tired sensation is just your body requesting a well-deserved nap.

Whether you spend this Thanksgiving eating turkey and sweet potatoes or sneaking a catnap in the afternoon, we wish you, your family, and your friends all the best on this day of thanks.

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One Response to “What’s on Your Thanksgiving Table? Fun Thanksgiving Facts”
  1. Not sure that I would want to eat a real “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner like the Pilgrims. but the new tradition is mighty filling. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner whatever that may include.

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